Port Arthur, Texas, one of the hardest hit areas from Harvey, continues to reel from the storm. In the Douglass Street neighborhood, houses are left in various states of disrepair.
Some, like that of Barbara “Barbie” Richards, are able to be lived in, but still show the effects of the storm. She and her husband look to continue work on their home. “We are still waiting on the permit to be able to put up sheetrock,” Richards told Media Milwaukee when she allowed us to tour her home. On the walls, the marks and color changes of where the water rose up to, an estimated four feet according to Richards, are still visible. Throughout the rest of the house, many appliances are still functional, as critical parts such as plugs and other wiring were not touched. In fact, the Richards’ television, sitting on top of two phone books, survived as the rising water soaked the bottom book but did not touch the top book.
Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, made landfall in south Texas, with winds as high as 130 miles per hour. Many areas received over 40 inches of rain as a result of the hurricane, the first major storm of this magnitude to hit the U.S. since 2005, and by the end, 91 people lost their lives. In addition, more than 30,000 people were displaced from their homes, and nearly $200 billion dollars in damage occurred. Historically, Harvey goes down as both the wettest (peak rain accumulations of over 60 inches) and costliest tropical cyclone in United States history.
Outside and in the garage made clear the image of a couple, one which has just been through one of the toughest of challenges, attempting to get back to some semblance of normal. Front and center are two trash bags filled with clothes, one with Barbara’s and one with her husband’s. Richards says, “I haven’t checked them in a while, so we just hope they aren’t filled with mold. If they are, we’ll just have to get by like we have.”
It’s not just every day residents in Port Arthur who continue to struggle in Harvey’s wake.
Derrick Freeman has been the mayor of Port Arthur for just over a year, having been elected in June of 2016. Born and raised in the city, Port Arthur is in his blood. A former actor who worked on TV shows as well as major ad campaigns, he broke onto the local political scene as a city councilman, where the average age was 62, including a then-31-year-old Freeman. “We had someone who was 81 or 82; a lot of people in their 70s,” Freeman said.
“I’m trying to bring Port Arthur into the 21st century.”
One way Freeman has done that was with his now-famous Facebook Live video, in which he told Port Arthur, as well as the social media world, that the city was effectively underwater. In an interview with Media Milwaukee, Freeman told the story of how that live video came to be as well as the city’s progress in coming back from the storm and how he handled this major test as mayor.
“They (officials) would have to pry me away from certain situations because I would be putting myself in situations that would put me in potential trouble, and they would tell me ‘Derrick, you’ve got to let everyone else do their jobs. You don’t have to do everything yourself.’”
When it comes to why a storm this strong occurred, the strength of which hasn’t been seen in the Lone Star State since the 1970s, Freeman has a belief that we as humans may just share some of the blame.
“Oh, I absolutely believe it (climate change) is real,” Freeman said. “When you look at our oil and fossil fuel use, especially here, I have a hard time believing that isn’t the case.”
“I know that may be an unpopular opinion, as I’m a blue (Democrat) in a predominantly red (Republican) state, but that’s how I feel, and I’m not gonna change that.”
Port Arthur may still be struggling, but amidst all the damage and rubble, there are some signs that the city is moving forward and will continue to do so. From the optimism that residents such as Barbara Richards continue to exhibit even in times of hardship, to the hands-on and upfront leadership of Derrick Freeman, it may take some time, but America may just hear from Port Arthur soon enough.